The Hidden Dangers of Teen Dating

My 17-year-old son started dating this year, a lovely young woman who has been a friend since seventh grade. They are both nearly adults in age, but still adolescents in many ways. As parents we discuss everything from sexting to STDs to pregnancy with our son, and I know her mom does the same. We have planted books that contain answers to questions he may be embarrassed to ask. But it honestly never occurred to us to talk to him about domestic violence. He does not witness violence in his home, but he certainly sees plenty of it in the media, from games to YouTube to movies.

Domestic violence – specifically teen dating violence – is not a topic we should ignore simply because it is not part of our experience. Just because a child does not experience violence at home doesn’t mean they are not susceptible to violence – as victims or abusers. Here are some important facts from the Centers for Disease Control:

  • 1 in 11 female teens experienced physical dating violence in the last year
  • 1 in 15 male teens experienced physical dating violence in the last year
  • 1 in 9 female teens experienced sexual dating violence in the last year
  • 1 in 36 male teens experienced sexual dating violence in the last year
  • 26% of women and 15% of men who have experienced domestic violence had their first experience before the age of 18
  • LGBTQIA teens are more likely to experience dating violence than their heterosexual peers
image credit: CDC

Many parents are unaware of these statistics and may also be unaware of how teen dating violence is defined. There are four types:

  • Physical violence – when one partner harms another by hitting, kicking or otherwise physically assaulting them
  • Sexual violence – forcing or attempting to force a partner into performing a sexual act; includes sexual touching but also includes unsolicited non-physical sexual activity such as sexting
  • Psychological aggression – using verbal or non-verbal communication to exert control and/or inflict harm on another person mentally or emotionally
  • Stalking – unwanted attention and contact that is systematically repeated in order to cause fear and attempt to control the behavior and activity of the other person

Some of these behaviors, such as sexting, can start at a very early age. Children commonly get their first smart phone at age 10 and a discussion about sexting needs to happen before their personal phone is placed in their hands. Both boys and girls need to understand what kind of pictures are OK and which are not OK. They also need to understand that unsolicited sexual overtures cause the recipient to experience the same kind of distress and anxiety as if they had been physically sexually harassed.

There are a number of behaviors to look out for if you are concerned your child is experiencing or perpetrating dating violence (from the National Domestic Violence Hotline website):

  • Your child’s partner is extremely jealous or possessive to the point where your child stops spending time with other friends and family. When asked how they feel about this, your child might say something like: She thinks my friends don’t like her, so she doesn’t like spending time around them. Or, she thinks they’re a bad influence on me, and she’s just trying to help.
  • You notice unexplained marks or bruises.
  • You notice that your son or daughter is depressed or anxious.
  • Your child stops participating in extracurricular activities or other interests.
  • Your child begins to dress differently; for example, wearing loose clothing because their partner doesn’t like for them to show off their body or attract the attention of someone else.
  • Your child worries if they can’t text/call their partner back right away because their partner might get upset.
  • Your child expresses fear about how their partner will react in a given situation.

It’s important to stay tuned in to your teen as they make their way in the dating world. Teens who experience abuse or violence in their adolescent relationships are at much higher risk in college and adulthood. Teen victims may experience depression or anxiety; may use drugs to escape; may pass along the violence they experience in anti-social behaviors like lying, shoplifting, bullying, or physically abusing others (younger siblings can become a target); or may experience suicidal ideation or even attempt suicide.

Open a communication channel about healthy relationships with your children starting at a young age. Encourage them to think critically about the health of their friendships as those behaviors form the basis for their intimate relationships. Most of all, be that non-judgmental listening ear so they know that you will love and support them in all aspects of their lives.

For more information and resources, visit the CDC’s Dating Matters website.

– Kathy Henry is the adoptive mom to two amazing young men; a writer and business marketing consultant; and an active volunteer in her public school, Unitarian Universalist church, and community.

A Lasting Impression

image credit: drivenbydecor

By now, everyone has seen it: that great idea of what to do for what to do for your kids for Valentine’s Day. You cut 14 hearts out of brightly colored construction paper, and starting on February 1, you write something you love about your child on a heart and put it on their bedroom door. You do this each day until Valentine’s Day. You can start Day One with a larger heart that says “I Love …” and then complete the sentence on each successive heart. “I Love … the way you set a good example for your little brother,” or “I Love … how hard you work when you practice the flute.”

A few years ago, I did this for my three kids. Every heart was different for each kid. My oldest was a college freshman, so every morning, I took a picture of her door at home with the new heart on it, and I texted it to her at school. She also turned 19 during the project, so the heart her birthday said, “that your beautiful, fierce soul is the one that made us parents. Happy Birthday.”

They loved it! At the time, my kids were 13, 17 and 18, so I was happy that they didn’t think they were too old for this. I loved coming up with the very tailored and specific things I put on each heart.

What stunned me was just how much it meant to them. After February was over that year, I waited for my kids to take the hearts off their doors. None of them made a move to do so. When Easter rolled around, I asked if they wanted to take them down. “Nope,” all around. This past fall, when my oldest accepted a job out of state once she graduates, we switched her (much bigger) room with her little sister’s. I was asked to move the hearts (still up, and slightly fading) to the correct doors. Apparently, this expression of our love for our kids made a lasting impression.

So as Valentine’s Day approaches, I want to encourage you to consider this little project. Even if your valentines are not-so-little people or maybe especially then. Take the time to really make each heart personal. This is better than a card maybe even better than chocolate. Giving them 14 reasons why we love them so very much.

Nicole Capozello is a group coordinator with the Parenting Program.

Navigating Sickness in Little Ones

Bob Reck, Flickr.

As the seasons change, it seems as though we hear of many around us falling ill. My husband and I recently experienced our 13-month-old daughter’s first intense bout with being sick. Thankfully, it was only 24 hours, but it was a scary time for all of us. However, we learned some lessons in the process that may be helpful to you and your family. Here are six tips and tricks for navigating through your little one being under the weather.

1. Trust your gut!

Our daughter got sick in the middle of the night, and we could hear through her noises that something was off. We instantly knew that these weren’t her typical “going back to sleep” noises. My husband and I went with our gut and checked on her; we found a sick little girl in need of our help. 

2. Don’t panic.

Little ones are extremely receptive to their parents’ emotions. Stay calm, hold them close, and reassure them that everything is OK. Even in our sleepy state, we divided and conquered when we discovered her illness at 2:30 a.m. While I drew a warm bath and played calm music, my husband cleaned and disinfected her bedroom. 

3. Do a timeline trace. 

Did anything seem off or peculiar in the prior couple of days? In our case, our typically ravenous daughter hadn’t eaten much the previous day. While we just thought this was a one-off occurrence, we now believe it was a sign that she was starting to feel under the weather. We’ve since learned that this is one of her signs, and will be better prepared in the future if it happens again. 

4. Cuddle, cuddle, cuddle!

The healing power of touch is incredible! Just as we want to cuddle up when we don’t feel well, so do our little ones. Take the time to snuggle up and comfort them, everything else can wait. 

5. Diapers speak a thousand words. 

One reassurance during our daughter’s sickness was her continuing to make wet diapers and take in fluids. Pay special attention to your baby’s diapers during the period of sickness so you may have this information to provide to their pediatrician as needed.

6. When in doubt, consult your pediatrician. 

As this was our first time experiencing anything like this, we didn’t want to jump to the phone too quickly, but we also didn’t want to wait if there was a need for our daughter to be seen. It never hurts to make a phone call to your pediatrician’s office to ask their input on whether or not to come in. 

Note: I am not a medical professional and recommend consulting your pediatrician for any medical input.

– Kylie Coury is a Parenting Program volunteer with a 1-year-old daughter and baby on the way. She enjoys time with her husband and little one, and has appreciated all of the new connections and adventures in this season of life.

Holiday Not-So-Fun? Seven Tips for Enjoying the Season with Your Special Needs Child

 

Both my boys struggle with different challenges: my oldest is on the autistic spectrum and my youngest is an alphabet soup of ADHD (with a lot of “H”), ODD and OCD. After years of therapy, educational intervention, and pure patience, at 19 and 16 they are both very functional in the world — attending Oakland Community College, working, both with realistic hopes and dreams for an independent future.

When they were small though, it was a different story.

When my oldest was in preschool and early elementary school, he was obsessed with ceiling fans. He would sit and wave his hand in front of his face because he was “making the fan.” He banged his head against his crib and later up and down on his bed. He memorized “Green Eggs and Ham” and would recite it to himself when he got bored. He would answer questions based on what he guessed the question might be; his speech therapist said he had a huge vocabulary for his age, but no understanding of what the words meant or how to string them together. As he grew older, his “presenting” issue became auditory processing disorder, and many of his behaviors settled as he matured.

While he had a number of unusual mannerisms and ways of perseverating, he never really had behavioral issues. Enter son number two. He was a 24-week micro-preemie, born at 1 lb. 7 oz. in an ambulance. We didn’t even know about him until the end of his three-month stay in the University of Southern Louisiana hospital, where he “always progressed and never regressed.” He was clearly determined to be here and has had no physical challenges — in fact, he became a competitive gymnast and extreme sports enthusiast, from skateboarding to snowboarding, parkour to rock climbing. The determination that helped him survive stuck with him, and his frequent frustration resulted in many outbursts at home, in school, in public, and at family gatherings. People were far less tolerant of his constant curiosity; the tearing apart of anything that interested him; the interruptions to conversations; and the insistence on scaling walls, furniture, fences, stair railings; than they were of his brother’s relatively more muted and explicable behaviors.

Needless to say, the holidays were challenging. When the kids were little, we lived in San Francisco and typically stayed home for Christmas but flew back to Michigan at Thanksgiving to visit family. This involved packing, airports, airplanes and confined spaces, and long car drives from one family gathering to another. The Michigan weather at that time of year often precluded being outdoors, while at home, hikes, scooters and bikes, tree-climbing, playgrounds, and the beach were all necessary outlets available to us year-round. Containing the energy of our youngest was especially challenging, made worse by Grandma believing “children should be seen and not heard.” Fortunately my sister had a master’s in early childhood education and had been a Head Start teacher, so her house was often a respite. Still,  noisy and crowded family gatherings were hard for both boys in any location.

Here are some tips that helped us get through our holiday excursions:

  1. Talk to your kids about your trip and what to expect. Explain the parts that will be fun (e.g., the moving walkways at the airport, getting to see and play with their cousins, yummy desserts) as well as what will be challenging (e.g., sitting still on the plane, being quiet at Grandma’s house, playing indoors most of the time). Talk about what quiet activities they can do and let each child pack a carry-on bag. Now is not the time to stay attached to your screen rules so if the 6,000th  viewing of Frozen or an online game on the phone is going to help you survive the plane trip or salvage some adult conversations, go for it.
  2. If you have a long plane trip, try to break it in half. For us, the mid-point between San Francisco and Detroit was Minneapolis, which made two 2-1/2-hour flights rather than one 4-hour flight to Chicago and a hopper to Detroit. This gave the kids time to run around and two flights that were about one movie long when the kids got bored with books! Tip: Pack external batteries and be sure you bring chargers for the rental car so you don’t run out of juice.
  3. Think about how to arrange seating on the plane. For us it was sometimes best to split up the boys, so we would each take one and put him at a window. We’d put our youngest, who was most likely to kick the seat in front of him, behind his brother. When they were a little older, it was easier to take all three seats plus the aisle across and put the boys next to each other, with the grown-ups switching off. If the kids all want the window seat, make an agreement about timing and when you will switch seats – but make sure they understand that it may not work exactly as you plan if the seatbelt light is on.
  4. Unless you know you are going to be very comfortable staying overnight with family, consider getting a hotel room if you can afford it. This will give your family an excuse to leave a large gathering and give you somewhere to go. Many hotels have a small indoor pool that can be a gift for expending pent-up energy. If you are concerned this might hurt your extended family’s feelings, make sure they understand your concerns are not about their hospitality, but about meeting the practical needs of your children.
  5. Talk to your family ahead of time. Make sure they understand what you are dealing with, what your children need, and how it may be different from the needs of the other kids in the family who they may see more often. Ask if they can set aside a “quiet room” in the house where you can take the kids. See if at least one family member is willing to be your ally, support your efforts, and make sure you get some adult time and respite.
  6. Scope out your recreational options ahead of time. Find the indoor bounce houses, the community pool (which may even have a water playground), the gymnastics places that offer open gym times, etc. If you are visiting a place where you grew up, your school friends who still live in the area and have kids can be an invaluable resource for the “secret” things to do with kids. If you are lucky enough to go somewhere warm, take frequent walks, go to the playground, and bring some adults with you so you can catch up while the kids run around. This can be a far better way for your family to get to know your kids than in a stilted family environment with an “adults only” vibe.
  7. Arts and crafts offer great cross-generational opportunities for bonding. Print out multiple copies of holiday coloring pages and offer crayons and colored pencils. Make ornaments for the tree or get some unpainted dreidels to decorate. “Stained glass” can be made using sheets of transparency film and markers. If space permits, consider setting up a dedicated arts and crafts table for the duration of the holiday.

These tips don’t include meeting physical challenges, which we did not have to manage, but here is a great article by a dad who travels frequently with a child who needs a wheelchair and has had a feeding tube. Real Simple also has some helpful tips for celebrating the holidays.

While you will be focused on your child, try to make sure you take some time for yourself and your spouse. Even if you don’t get some physical respite, take some mental respite. Remember that you are doing the best you can in a challenging situation. Don’t assume that the heavy sigh of a family member is directed toward your child. If someone offers to help, let them! Take the time to teach them how to help care for your child, and you’ll not only give yourself a break, you’ll give them the gift of getting to know your child better and strengthening those family bonds.

– Kathy Henry is an adoptive parent to two teenage boys. She is also a marketing consultant, business coach and copywriter who volunteers for several organizations, including the Beaumont Parenting Program.

November is Adoption Month

It was about this time eight years ago that we were contacted by our adoption agency. There was a woman, pregnant with twins, and she was interested in meeting us.

Funny thing about what I remember about that. I was moving clothes from the washer to the dryer as my husband and I talked about it. When we met her at the mall, I wore a black and grey sweater. The night the kids were born, I was sitting on the left couch cushion debating going shoe shopping.

Those little moments in time made an impression on me, apparently. It’s kind of like asking my parents where they were when JFK was shot, or where we were on 9/11. Only these are happy impressions.

I’m to the point where I’m surprised my kids are adopted. Nearly eight years in and I don’t give it a second thought, usually. Except in those moments when I’m reminded.

While I’m open about our adoption experience, there’s things I don’t always talk about such as the agony of waiting to hear if birthmom relinquished her parental rights. I never felt great about that. I was relieved, of course, but there I was hoping a woman wasn’t going to break my heart by wrecking her own.

But that’s in the past. My kids are healthy, amazing and quite the little humans now and I’m living each day by sending a little bit of gratitude into the universe for birthmom. Because in this story, she’s the real hero.

– Rebecca Calappi is a freelance writer, adoptive Novmmom to twins, and past Parenting Program participant. Surprisingly, she’s mostly sane.

It Goes By So Fast

 

“It goes by so fast.”

Parents generally don’t like to hear these words, unless they’re talking about sleepless nights or the terrible twos. Then, they want time to pass quickly.

But the harsh reality of parenting is that childhood really does speed by. It seems like just yesterday, my husband and I were the parents of an only child. Now we have three. Our firstborn was a generously plump bald little guy who was just 6 weeks old when Halloween rolled around. We dressed him in a fuzzy orange onesie with a green stem, black triangle eyes and a crooked mouth all strategically arranged on the hood. It was sized for a 6-month-old but it was perfect for him because we had been calling our son Pumpkin Man since the day he was born.

At his second Halloween, our Pumpkin Man was one week away from becoming a big brother. We dressed him as a monkey because he often acted like a silly little monkey. We took one of my all-time favorite pictures that Halloween night as he sat in front of a big bowl of fun-size chocolate. He liked the look and feel of the shiny wrappers and was content watching the Snickers and Milky Way bars slip between his tiny fingers. As a child with no older siblings and parents who had yet to expose him to the pleasure of candy, he was content and clueless.

Fast forward a few years. Now there are three children in our family. All of them are old enough to trick-or-treat and they all crave sugar. At this point, we have Halloween traditions that include going to the pumpkin patch for a photoshoot and hoping everyone cooperates. Our hard drives are filled with tons of these photos to look back at along with pumpkin-carving shots and, of course, pictures of the kids in the various costumes they spent months deciding on.

In addition to the family traditions, October 31 helps us mark milestones for our middle son, who is on the autism spectrum. We remember the early Halloweens when he wouldn’t even go outside because it was too dark. We celebrated the first time the five of us were able to trick-or-treat together because our son sat the entire time on my husband’s shoulders. It was up there that he felt safest as we shuffled through the decaying leaves and braved the cold while rushing from house to house to fill orange plastic pumpkins.

We laugh about the Halloweens where we pilfered through his candy bag because his allergies prevented him from eating most of the treats and his autism somehow prevented him from caring about the theft. We lament about the year when he finally realized he was getting candy he couldn’t eat and demanded a nut-free, dairy-free alternative. We celebrated the year he finally remembered to tell people about his allergies politely. And, we smile at the unique costumes he’s chosen, including a light bulb, a construction barrel, and a spider web.

It’s fun to look back on 14 years of Halloween pictures and see how the kids have changed, with each costume serving as a showcase of the kids’ likes at interests at a given age. For example, after many years of being a Disney princess, our daughter moved on to more “sophisticated” costumes. Her most recent choices included a poodle-skirt clad ‘50s girl and a vampire.

Each year, Halloween looks different in our family. This year it will look something like this: our daughter will trick-or-treat with a group of friends. Our oldest son will likely hang out at a friend’s house like he did last year, marking the second time he doesn’t trick-or-treat. Our middle child will accompany us in a yet-to-be-determined costume (but probably a recycled one since it’s so last minute). He will politely ask for candy he is not allergic to and hopefully not consume most of it before we get home. As for the chocolate, his siblings and maybe even his parents will vie for the choice pieces, including the full-size candy bars, Twix bars, and KIT KAT bars.

This much-anticipated night will go by fast for our two trick-or-treaters, just like their childhood.

– Jen Lovy is a Beaumont Parenting Program volunteer.

My daughter dresses in boy clothes, so what?

As much as I talk about my son, I’d like to share a story about my daughter.

I don’t talk about her much, she seems to get overshadowed by her brother a lot. But she’s funny, brilliant, kind and awesome. She also prefers to shop on the “boy” side of the clothing store.

Nothing wrong with that. I don’t mind. It’s actually pretty nice, not having to look for age-appropriate styles through piles of tacky, overdone clothing. “Boy” clothes are generally simple: shirt, pants with proper coverage.

She does get mistaken for a boy a lot. Her blonde hair is cut in a chin-length bob, plus her skinny frame with “boy” clothes and she’s called “buddy” and “dude” a few times a week. She does fine with these comments, but at school, it hurts. She’s very frustrated with the kids who know she’s a girl, but still ask her gender anyway.

At age 7, I don’t understand why gender matters so much. They’re basically babies still, just learning social rules. There’s nothing sexual about being 7 years old. But kids, and some adults, still ask as if it’s even important.

Sadly, I’d be lying if I said I was immediately fine with her “boy” clothes. I never told her she can’t have the clothes she wants, never made her feel bad about shopping where she’s comfortable. But I have mom guilt. I feel guilty for being a bit sad that I don’t shop with her on the “girl” side of the store. I was sad that my head built the idea of having a daughter with bows and dresses and instead I have a daughter who prefers polo shirts and cargo shorts. It’s almost as if I’m mourning for an idea.

Isn’t that awful of me?

But I’m determined to be a better mom about this and because of her, I wanted to share this story with you to show you how important it is to children to just be accepted and loved.

I bought both kids new pajamas from Costco recently. My son’s had bulldozers on them and my daughter’s had dinosaurs. I picked the dinosaurs because the only other option was unicorns and that’s just not her style. Besides, who doesn’t like dinosaurs?

When she saw them in her room, she began pulling the tags off immediately. Then she stopped and asked where I got them. I told her Costco. Excitedly, she told me the tags say, “kids pajamas,” not “boy pajamas” or “girl pajamas.” Because that means these pajamas are for everyone.

I told you she’s brilliant.

Kid pajamas. Two words made the difference to her. I wish there was a way to make you feel the way she did when she read those tags. I also wish there was a way to let you feel the warm relief I felt when I saw her so happy about the tags on her jammies.

Two words. So simple. Sometimes, that’s all it takes.

– Rebecca Calappi is a freelance writer, adoptive mom to twins, and past Parenting Program participant. Surprisingly, she’s mostly sane.